In poker – specifically, Texas Hold'em – a pocket pair is often seen as a "must play" hand. As the name suggests, a pocket pair is when you're dealt two cards of equal value (but differing suits) in any game of poker. Although pairs are important in all forms of poker, they are most significant in a game of Texas Hold'em because this variant involves two hole cards. This means that all of your decisions will be based on the strength of this pair, both pre-flop and post-flop.
The odds of being dealt a pocket pair in Texas Hold'em is 1/221 or 0.45%, so when you do receive a pair you need to know how to play it. The first thing you should do when you're playing a pair is assess its strength.
Before you start sizing up your hand, you first need to take into account the following dynamics:
The best way to play small and medium pairs (except for when you are short stacked) is for set value (i.e. you want to hit a set post-flop). You will often see one or more overcards post-flop; when this happens you could find that your pre-flop advantage has been negated.
Therefore, when you're playing small and medium pairs, you always need to take into consideration the above points and ask yourself: will I be able to make a set and, more importantly, will I make some money from my opponents when I do?
The chance of flopping either a set or quads is roughly 11.6%. Based on this, it's possible to say that if the ratio between your opponent's stack versus the amount you have to call to play the hand need to be 12:1+ (i.e. their stack needs to be 12X or greater than the size of the bet) to justify set mining.
Essentially, if you're not in a position to set mine with small and medium pairs you should either move all-in with your hand pre-flop (if you have a short stack or are in a tournament) or fold it.
If you have a high pair then you have more options because your hand will fare better post-flop. For example, if you were dealt a pair of jacks, there is a strong chance that your pair will be higher than the community cards.
When this is the case you can be slight more confident that your hand is best on the flop, turn and river. Of course, you constantly need to refer back to the above points concerning the table dynamics; however, in general, you should be as aggressive as possible with high pairs.
Pocket pairs are great hands but only under the right circumstances. Each time you're dealt a pair you first need to look at which category it falls into (low, medium or high). From this point you need to run through the checklist of table dynamics and then decide whether your objective is to hit a set and be deceptive or to be aggressive with a strong pair.
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